Russia surely is more complicated and multi-faceted than I expected. This blog post is an amalgam of some further observations of the students, of the town, and of the judicial system here.
The students: I met with about 80 law students (most not in my class) in a large classroom for an open discussion unrelated to the course I am teaching. The idea was to allow the students to ask questions on any subject including personal subjects. Very interesting; at first the students were reticent to talk and my translator suggested that I simply describe my background, job and
family which I did. From there the students asked questions galore; here are a few, which I think demonstrate the open scope of the discussion, the concerns normal to all students, and some cultural differences:
*How much does it cost to go to a US law school? Can you get a scholarship? Does the school get you a job?
*What job do you have other than lawyer to make money?
*What country has the prettiest girls?
*What was your most interesting case? (They were disappointed; my law practice is not like a TV show.)
*What is viewed as the most useful and important profession in America?
*Are either of your older sons married (from a vivacious young woman who said she intended to become President of the Russian Federation)?
*What courses and qualifications do you need to get a job in a law firm?
*If America has one million lawyers, what do the law graduates who cannot get a law job do for a career?
*What are your hobbies?
*How old are you?
After the meeting, various students brought their cell phones forward to have a picture taken with me, and many asked for my autograph. A bit embarrassing I thought, and Laura (to whom I recounted this later) groaned that the last thing I needed was something else to feed my ego.
The town: My last blog discussed our walk around part of the town near the University, that I described as a bit shabby. There is another part of town, on a hill, visible from the University (the University is down by the rive)r. The buildings are large and seem modern from a distance. We took a public bus (small, blue curtains in the windows, ten rubles (40 cents) fare), to the top of the hill. This is a newer and much fancier part of town. The buildings are in excellent repair, we are told they are condos and expensive. The broad shopping street is full of attractive shops, some sculpture, trees in the middle, restaurants, a movie theater showing the US cartoon feature “Rango.” This could be a middle class apartment area anywhere in the US. Although the area is by no means the largest neighborhood in town, it demonstrates a significant middle class and a reasonably affluent life style by American standards. We had dinner in a very credible sushi house, located on the second floor of a four floor mini-mall with high end shops; but for the verticality of the space, you would think you were in Cambridgeside Galleria (if not Chestnut Hill Mall). Lots of signs in English, lots of English language packaging.
The Courts. Today I had two exposures of different sorts to the court system in the Belgorod region.
First, I attended the first sessions of an “international conference” on criminal justice held at Belgorod State University (where I lecture). Although it turned out that there were basically three nations represented (at least in the first half day of remarks), Russia and Belarus and Ukraine, the meeting was otherwise impressive on two levels. Physically, the meeting was held in a large ultra-modern conference space on the top floor of the main University building, in a large well-lit room with an oval of about forty desks for delegates, and “grandstands” on either end for students and faculty to observe. All proceedings were in Russian. There was a large contingent of professors from various schools in Moscow. I can provide details of the remarks for anyone interested (just email me), but the themes were very interesting: how do we combat computer crime when our investigators are young and ill-trained?; how can we tolerate having legal investigators without legal training?; how do we establish a system of qualifying expert witnesses in criminal cases so we can be sure they actually are experts?; how do we fight against forged credentials available on the black market which are utilized sometimes to obtain jobs in the judicial system? The discussions were generally erudite, the participants serious senior people and the conference was (excuse the implicit air of superiority) fully up to Western standards for such events.
Second, I was given a tour by, and meeting with, the head of the Belgorod regional Arbitral Court this afternoon. This court sits without juries to deal with business law cases (jury trials occur in the “ordinary” courts for non-business matters). I saw the court rooms and chambers of the judges and met with the chief judge for about 45 minutes in total. Some observations: this is the nicest courthouse I have ever seen, fully modern and well appointed; there are 18 courtrooms, each with electronic support; the building cannot be more than a few years old, and there is not a single grey or green metal cabinet in it; each judge has a clerk; the computer system can be accessed by anyone at terminals built into the walls, and you can get the docket and pleadings of all active cases right there; you can get a computer disc of each proceeding in a case right then and there, everything is recorded and public and available and also archived on the internet; the courthouse is treated, I infer, as a showcase but frankly it IS a showcase, with exercise facilities and recreational facilities for the judges, a chess table set up in the hallway outside chambers, etc. I will lecture to all the judges and I believe the staff of the court next Wednesday night on some aspects of the US judicial system, and I look forward to the experience. I have explained that I am not a litigator, but given the level of information seemingly possessed by the lawyers and judges here I am sure I can provide some useful information, albeit not in great detail.
Personal PS: raced home from dinner and symphony tonight to beat the 11pm shutdown of the elevators in the “dorm.” The good news is we got here by cab with 15 minutes to spare. The bad news is that they decided to shut down the elevators at 10:30. Up 9 floors with a tired kid and a belly full of bad warm wine; welcome to Belgorod.